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CHAMBER REVIEW

Monica Huggett, Tanya Tomkins, Eric Zivian March 31 in Schroeder Hall

VOM FESTIVAL TRIO CHARMS WITH CHAMBER MIX, AND HUMMEL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 31, 2018

At the core of the group of Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) musicians is an ensemble of trios and duos, and as a trio March 31 Festival founders cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian joined British violinist Monica Huggett for a chamber music concert in the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall.

The concert was the second in a series, and titled “The Little Orchestra.” As in past performances, a piano from the abbreviated period of the programmed music (1788-1802) was used, and the bowed instruments used gut rather than steel strings. This is standard fare for the VOM musicians, at their summer Sonoma Festival and at sporadic winter and spring season concerts in Northern California.

Often the lack of a modern concert grand and reduced string thematic projection are a sonic concern, but this afternoon I found the ensemble was balanced and the Schroeder acoustics warm and complimentary to the audience of 125.

Prior to the opening Mozart’s C Major Trio received Ms. Huggett’s remarks from the stage depicted the era of the afternoon’s works, and were concise and at turns humorous. So different from the fluff of many preconcert speeches. The K. 548 Trio received a lovely performance, though often the cello part was subsidiary and an occasional “extra voice” was given to Mr. Zivian’s piano line. Ms. Huggett doesn’t possess a commanding violin tone, and all day her intonation, especially at initial attacks, wandered off pitch. That said, her style and approach to Mozart and the Haydn G Major “Gypsy” trio that followed I found beguiling and irresistible.

The Haydn, from 1795, was more of the same lyrical simplicity, fast in the Hungarian Rondo finale. It’s that kind of work, and the brisk tempo with felicitous dynamic control from all three performers brought the first half to a close.

Ms. Huggett again addressed the audience prior to her and Mr. Zivian’s performance of Beethoven’s A Minor, Sonata, Op. 23, in three movements. Playing as throughout the concert from score, the violinist gave a warm and sometimes restrained reading, holding the bow (as did Ms. Tomkins) well up from the frog. She had inventive phrasing and in the andante scherzoso caught the composer’s humor during the quasi-fugal parts. Mr. Zivian provided excellent support, and never covered the violin, though his instrument has limited tonal sustain from the use of the knee-actuated damper pedal. The finale, similar in drama and ending to Beethoven’s “Tempest” Piano Sonata in D minor, explored distant keys and the performance was a highlight of the concert.

Hummel’s music is a stranger to the North Coast, but recently the Tilden Trio played a fine E Flat Major, Op. 93, at Dominican University in San Rafael, and the VOM Trio closed the concert with F Major Trio, Op. 22. The cello is used in novel ways in the piece. Here they used more rubato than in the Haydn and Mozart, and the theme and variations in the andante were elegantly performed, with a unison ending for three instruments. Mr. Zivian’s commanded fast scales here and in the more forceful final movement, played off the “Czardas” and gypsy rhythm inflections from Ms. Huggett. Well, the composer, though certainly cosmopolitan, was Hungarian.

Audience applause was robust, no encore ensued, and as at seemingly each VOM concert a gratis reception was provided in the Hall’s lobby with provocative conversations with the musicians.